Archive for the 'Teacher Education' Category

Exploring Identity in Milwaukee

milwaukee-1809871_640 (1)By Lupe Serna

Growing up, I remember social studies instruction as very textbook heavy. It seemed like everything we learned about social studies was through text. I don’t recall ever going out to the community to explore social studies, much less to personally witness the role of social studies in real life experiences or in my community. Perhaps that is what influenced my imprecise understanding of the social studies. I never got the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the subject, at least I was never aware that I already was immersed in it on a daily basis.

As teachers, we want our students to see the purpose and importance of class content. We want them to be able to explore on their own and discover new things. Students should be able to question and inquire. They should be able to take what they learned and transfer it outside of the classroom.

In order to accomplish that, one of the biggest resources that we can turn to is the outside world. We can engage students into the lesson by making their city and their communities part of the curriculum. Physically taking students out into the community so that they can see the presence of social studies in the real world can make a lesson much more meaningful. Teaching social studies does not have to be limited to inside the classroom, much less to a textbook. The great thing about teaching social studies is that we can use what’s out there! We can look for sites, museums, or neighborhoods in our communities to connect social studies to students’ lives.

A site in the Milwaukee community that can help us teach social studies is the Old South Side Settlement Museum. This museum is located inside of a home in the South Side of Milwaukee. Despite growing up in that area and passing by that house for years, it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I visited it during a summer camp job. I always wondered why that house stood out from all the others and when I finally got to experience what it was about, I was amazed by what I found. This museum shows the history of Milwaukee’s immigrant communities in that area of the city throughout the decades. Each room in the house is set up to represent the cultural identities of families who once lived there. Aside from displaying photographs of that neighborhood across the years, it also has antiques and furniture that date back to when families lived there. The cultures highlighted in this museum are the Polish and Mexican cultures. Visiting this museum is a great way to see not only the differences in identities, but also the similarities among these two groups. The tour of this museum goes into the cultural component, but also the historical component in regards to immigration and the living conditions throughout the ages.

Before visiting this site, students can explore different cultures (like the Mexican and Polish that they will hear about at the museum) and their similarities and differences. They can also explore the topic of immigration and the waves of migration into Milwaukee throughout the years. Finally, students could look at the challenges that immigrants face in terms of living conditions, but also the identity crisis that they might experience upon moving to a new country. A means of introducing students to this struggle of discovering and freely expressing one’s identity can be through the book Unidentified Suburban Object. The book can engage the students through the story of a young girl who explores her family’s heritage and only then does she feel like she can be herself.

Students can greatly benefit from both that lesson and visiting that site because it is important for students to learn about what has shaped their community and to begin to discover and be proud of their own identity. One’s identity is composed of multiple factors, cultural identity, like can be clearly identified in that museum, is just one example. A person’s identity also consists of their values, ethnicity, language, sexuality, beliefs, and much more.

Religious and spiritual beliefs are large components that shape our identity. There are many different religious affiliations, and even within each affiliation, there are different practices/rituals that people adopt. Discovering one’s religious/spiritual beliefs is a long and complicated journey for many. To expose students to the religious diversity of the world, teachers can of course begin to explore different religions in the classroom so students can pick up on the differences and similarities between them. However, one of the most impactful ways to teach students about religions is by offering them the opportunity to personally witness them.

A site in Milwaukee that can teach students about Judaism through an exhibit on Jewish Belief and Community is the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Their exhibit focuses on the religious identity and the sense of community among Jewish communities. This site can be used along with the study of different religions and the values tied to those religions. Students can also learn about celebrations/holidays and find commonalities and differences between them. For example, with the lesson below, students can compare and contrast Hanukkah, Ramadan, and Diwali. Finally, students can learn about the Jewish history in Wisconsin to increase their awareness of the lives and struggles of this religious community. This is something that they can directly interact with and explore in the museum.

Going out into the community and visiting monuments, sites, museums, or any other form of public exhibit is a great way to engage students in the exploration of social studies. If students become aware of the presence of social studies in their immediate surroundings and world, they are more likely to become interested in learning more in the classroom because they see the importance and connection of the content to real life. If there’s any way to effectively approach the teaching of social studies, it’s like this.

Questioning the Dominant Narrative

books-441866_640By Lupe Serna

Many times, the curriculum is presented through the same dominant narrative. Although this allows for consistency across classrooms, it restricts history teaching to a single story. On the other hand, if we present students with different perspectives and prompt them to question dominant narratives, we open the doors to critical analysis and historical thinking. As a result, students learn how to draw their own conclusions to interpret history, rather than merely accepting the dominant narrative.

Teaching students to question narratives and approach history through different view points can lead to the discovery of new information and facts that are usually disclosed from the dominant narrative of that historical time period.

The Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, also known as the Chicano Movement, is usually briefly mentioned in the classroom. For the most part, students receive a very general understanding of the topic as a fight against discrimination of Hispanics, the fight for farm workers’ rights alongside Cesar Chavez, and the fight for the restoration of land after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Of course, there are various ways to present this topic. A controversial textbook, “Mexican American Heritage,” describes the Chicano Movement as an attempt to create division. After reading a few excerpts from the book in the article above, I personally did not agree with that perspective. I can see why some might have thought of the movement as one that went against American culture. However, as a Mexican American myself, I think of the Chicano movement as more of a search for identity.

When discussing the Chicano movement, I think it is necessary to go beyond discussing what happened and asking why did it happen? Ultimately, it is the Mexican American people who felt the need to fight for their rights and education. Thus, the focus should be on their own experiences and struggles. Why did Mexican Americans at the time decide to fight for their civil rights? How were they feeling at the time that made them take action? What were they struggling with that led them to take part in a movement?

These questions seem to have straight forward answers: they faced discrimination, their rights as workers were violated, they had limited access to education, among other reasons. That’s as far as discussions in the classroom usually go. The deeper problem that is usually overlooked is the tie to the struggle of identity.

In the movie Selena, there is a scene where her father perfectly describes the struggle of being Mexican American as having to please two different cultures and meeting the expectations of both groups, leading to the feeling of not being good enough to belong to either group.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, many Mexicans were suddenly American. Mexican Americans struggled with this new identity, not completely Mexican but not completely American either. This article from a 1972 newspaper does a great job of explaining the identity crisis among Mexican Americans, claiming it as “One of the most pressing problems for a person of Mexican descent in the United States.” It goes on to talk about the discrimination that they face due to the color of their skin, the feelings of inferiority that they experience in the US, and the pressure to let go of their Mexican roots and customs.

Out of this identity crisis grew great pride in their mixed roots, taking on what came to be known as a Chicano identity. With that pride came awareness. Mexican Americans began to notice the manner in which they were treated differently, like is described in this poem. That awareness is what moved people to action and led to the voicing against injustices, the fight for civil rights and the fight for higher education, which was mostly led by student movements like the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA).

Among some of the most well known activists of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement are Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, founders of the National Farm Workers Association, later known as the United Farm Workers union. The fight for farm workers’ rights is the most common story that is taught in regards to the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.

A different side of the movement that is not usually included in the curriculum is the role of a secret FBI program, COINTELPRO, against activists. Left out of the curriculum and, as a result, not forming a part of students’ social studies knowledge is the use of repression and force against activists and radical groups in the sixties, especially the Black Movement.  This video talks more about the attacks against the Chicano Movement.

Most narratives included in the curriculum focus on the positive outcomes of historical topics. Students are not always exposed to the ugly parts of history that led to those victories. In the case of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, victories of activists like Cesar Chavez are commonly known, but left in the shadows are those who were silenced.

In the classroom, students should be encouraged to question both what is included in and what is left out of the dominant narrative. While they explore sources and different perspectives, they should question their credibility, their bias, their audience, their intention, and other factors that could influence the manner in which the topic is presented. This is a crucial step to incorporate into the classroom if we want students to learn how to sort out different perspectives to make their own interpretations of social studies.

Drawing from multiple primary sources when preparing for and teaching a lesson on any historical topic opens the doors to historical analysis for students. The sources above, along with the earlier video on COINTELPRO’s attacks on the Chicano Movement, present different information and perspectives on the Chicano Movement.

Social studies is about engaging students in critical thinking and analysis. A great way for them to partake in that is by questioning the narratives presented in the classroom, especially the dominant narrative. Participating in that questioning and inquiry leads to an expansion of students’ knowledge on historical topics because they learn to dig deeper and discover perspectives aside from the dominant narrative.

As teachers, that is what we are called to do — draw from multiple perspectives so that students can question the dominant narrative and make their own interpretations about the manner in which historical topics are presented.

Social Studies Embedded In Our Lives

10012162166_cde34d427e_bBy Lupe Serna

Growing up, my least favorite subject in school was always social studies. I didn’t enjoy it, it never stuck with me, I just knew I had to take it. I would take notes, study the material, take the test, and then eventually forget most of what I “learned.”

Of course, now I realize I must have never really learned it but, rather, memorized it.

The thing is, I always associated social studies with history, specifically, American history. That’s all it ever was to me. And, quite frankly, it was boring. I heard the same story over and over again each year. But even that wasn’t enough to learn it. You would think that after so many years of being taught the same parts of history something would stick with me. But that was not the case.

As a Spanish-speaking, Mexican immigrant, I could not relate to the material. I was not able to personally connect with, much less engage in, social studies class. Perhaps that’s why I always wrongly associated social studies with history, because I never saw myself reflected in the class content. As a result, I wasn’t able to take the material and apply it to my own life, I wasn’t able to make the necessary connection between the content and reality, I couldn’t partake in authentic intellectual work.

As a future educator, I now realize that that has been the traditional approach to teaching social studies for quite some time now. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like that. We have the power to change it.

By taking different, non-traditional approaches to the teaching and practice of social studies, students’s retainment of material and ability to explain it highly increases.

If students feel connected to the material, if they see themselves reflected through the content and are fully engaged participants in their own learning, they are more likely to retain what they learn in the classroom and carry it with them to use those skills and strategies in the outside world.

In other words, authentic intellectual work of social studies is constructing knowledge and being able to transfer that understanding into different aspects or situations in our lives.

What exactly does this mean for the classroom?

Authentic intellectual work means that students do so much more than just learn the material or attain knowledge. It means students actually understandthe material. Not only that, they take it a step further than understanding and they, one, discover the content’s value beyond school and, two, take that disciplined inquiry and apply it in their lives.

But before I go on, it is important to clarify what social studies actually consists of.

There really is no set definition for social studies. Usually, when people hear the word social studies, they think of history, politics, geography, and international relations. At least, that’s what I always thought of.

Not many realize that social studies is so much more than just history. Social studies includes topics such as personal idenity, culture, race, language, religion, community involvement, social justice, civil plans and so much more. In a nutshell, social studies includes anything and everything relating to the human society and social relationships.

For the most part, we don’t really think about social studies as something we do. Surprisingly enough, we do in fact “do” social studies on a daily basis, at times when we least expect it. We do social studies by something as simple as interacting with members in our community, actively responding to current events or natural disasters, fundraising money for organizations or our own communities, acting or taking part in a school play that reenacts a moment in history, partaking in civil rallies demanding social justice, etc.

Take, for example, the many times throughout history when civilians have reacted to and spoken out against social injustices by taking to the streets to protest. It happened back during the Civil Rights Movement and it continues to happen today, the most recent example of nation-wide protests being those held to call for the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In protests like these, participants “do” social studies in the following ways:

  1. Stay informed of current events and actively participate in their communities
  2. Use freedom of speech to stand up for what they believe in
  3. Are aware of and accept cultural differences and diversity
  4. Are informed about the effect of certain political decisions on the lives of others
  5. Interact with other individuals and groups
  6. Sympathize with and show their support for those directly affected

This video shows a recent and local protest on the streets of the Southside of Milwaukee, WI, where the community gathered to call for the protection of DACA.

Another misconception about social studies is that only adults take part in it. Youth’s involvement and role in social studies tends to go unnoticed because many are under the assumption that kids, who have not yet experienced much of life nor have attained much knowledge or wisdom, are not capable of contributing to society or having any sort of impact on the world.

However, quite the contrary is true. Kids can be just as powerful and impactful as adults. At times, they can have an even greater impact precisely because they are kids and as kids, they have a clearer, more innocent outlook on life.

Youth “do” social studies in more ways than imagined. A very common activity that children partake in but that is rarely recognized as “doing” social studies is discussion. When children have conversations with individuals or groups, they are, in one way or another, “doing” social studies. Participating in conversations is a great way for children to “do” social studies because it consists of taking an active role in social relationships. By interacting with others, hearing different perspectives, discussing their own view points, expressing their thoughts and feelings, and connecting with others’s stories and experiences, children are actively “doing” social studies.

This video is an example of 2nd-4th grade students “doing” social studies as they perform their own rendition of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” This is a great example of students “doing” social studies because it is evident that students took the material and interpreted in their own way to be able to perform it for an audience. They took history, listened to a different side that is usually not told, made it their own, and, to some extent, re-lived the past by literally putting themselves in the story and taking on different roles. Also, because they were able to fully engage with the material and presented it to an audience, their “doing” of social studies is a lot easier to assess in this situation. Their performance reflects their level of engagement and their investment with the material because in order to perform it well, they must first understand the message they must convey and incorporate props, movements, song, and emotion to do so.

Other examples of youth “doing” social studies are volunteering or doing community service, exploring other cultures and religions, witnessing social justice issues, interacting with people of different backgrounds, acknowledging the diversity within their own homes and the people around them, picking up garbage around their neighborhood, recycling in their homes, being considerate of the amount of water they use, fundraising money for organizations or humanitarian causes, and much more. A few methods of assessment for a non-traditional approach to social studies might be:

  1. Visual respresentations of past and/or current events with captions summarizing students’s explanation of what happened
  2. Visual representations of students’s reactions (physical and/or emotional) to particular stories or shared life experiences
  3. Written reflections about personal encounters or experiences out in the community
  4. A retelling of a story or conversation of students “doing” social studies outside of the classroom
  5. Written responses to the way in which current events were featured in news/media coverage and how it impacted them

A storymap is another example of “doing” social studies because it can serve as a timeline of events that in one way or another impacted an individual, or a group of individuals, while simultaneously telling a story and making it more personal. I created my own storymap to illustrate part of my family’s journey migrating from Mexico to the United States. By mapping this out, I got a better geographical understanding of the long journey that my grandparents, parents, and extended family members made by moving to the United States. It was very impactful because as I reflected on the difficulties, sacrifices, and social injustices that my family has experienced, I realized how strong that has made us and how it has shaped our character. At the same time, it also brought me joy and pride to remind myself of where I come from and what I’ve been through to be where I am today. If that isn’t authentic intellectual work of social studies itself, I don’t know what is.


Flashback to Peru

IMG_4375Last summer, Sara Douvalakis and six other College of Education students participated in the College’s first faculty-led study abroad trip to Peru. Led by Drs. Melissa Gibson and Jeff LaBelle, S.J., the students wrote about their experience. For this #ThrowbackThursday, we aren’t going too far back in time– just to May 2017!
My name is Sara and I am a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am originally from a suburb of Chicago, and in the fall I will be a senior in the College of Ed with a double major in Psychology and Elementary Education. My hobbies include cooking, online shopping, grabbing coffee with friends, and of course eating!

I am traveling to Peru as part of a first time study abroad program  for education majors. This is the first time that the College of Education at MU has offered a study abroad program. While in Peru, I will be taking two courses for a total of 6 credits; the courses focus on Critical Issues in Education and Philosophy of Education. The courses will examine the philosophical underpinnings of various educational approaches in the US and Peru, as well as the key issues, policies, and practices that are part of global debate about what constitutes a high quality and equitable education.

Day 1:
After two long flights from Chicago to Panama City and then to Lima Peru, we finally made it. Although my legs felt like Jell-O from sitting for almost nine hours in the plane, all of my luggage arrived and I am forever grateful for that. Phew! After weaving through late night Peruvian traffic, we arrived at our host family’s home. The home belongs to a family of four; MariLuz, her husband, Jose (our tour guide) and his sister Carla, who is currently in Columbia.

In the morning we were served fresh rolls and jelly for breakfast. Once our tummies were full, we headed out for our first of many walking tours. Our host brother, Jose, took us through the neighborhoods to the Jesuit University that is hosting us. We spent the day meeting locals, students, and other education students at Universidad Antonio Ruiz De Montoya (UARM). We walked around the beautiful outdoor campus, which was bustling with students from all over Peru.

During some presentations shown to us by administrators from UARM, we listened to a panel of students and professors who introduced us to some of the issues in education. The thing that most caught my attention was the fact that education is very centralized in Lima. Many people in the country do not have access to education like we do in the United States. Many of the people in the jungle and in the mountains are not able to travel hours a day for access to education. During the panel, there was a student who received the Beca (scholarship) 18, which is for students in very high poverty areas, and it provides them the opportunity to go to college on a full ride. This particular student was from the mountains of Peru without the opportunity to go to college; however, with this scholarship she is able to attend school for four years for absolutely no cost. While she was speaking it was clear that she had come great lengths to travel to the city of Lima and attend college in her non-native language. Stories like this are what motivate and excite me to be a teacher.

Once the presentations were over, Jose picked us back up at UARM, and we were off to another tour. This time he led us through the neighborhood/district, which we are staying in called Jesus Maria. Lima is split into districts and neighborhoods each with historical names. The streets are lined with panaderías and cevicherías. As well as shoe stores, hair dressers and nail salons (so many nail salons). We then made our way to the plaza of Jesus Maria where locals gather around in the town square. After a quick stop for ice cream, we made our way back to the house where we were served a traditional Peruvian dinner of garlic rice and meat stew with potatoes.

Overall today was a whirlwind. I quickly learned that my Spanish is nowhere near where I thought it was and that winter in Peru is actually nicer than most days in Milwaukee. It is past 10 pm here and tomorrow breakfast is being served at 6 am…. yikes!

Day 2:
Day two began with our alarm going off at 5:30 am (thank goodness for Peruvian coffee). After a sit down breakfast of freshly blended jugo de papaya y piña and pan we were off to MLK Socio Deportivo School to play futból with local children who live in the district of EL Agustino. This is one of the 49 districts of Lima; it was filled with abundant markets and hustle and bustle at every corner. MLK is a program founded by ex-gang members who are trying to enrich the community and provide opportunities for children growing up in this district. Although this is one of the poorer districts, it was my favorite location so far. Right away, I noticed friendly locals welcoming us, and beautifully colored homes lining the streets. Wild dogs and cats joined us on our walks through the neighborhoods, and even on the futból field.


The children of el Agustino made us feel welcome right away and were so curious about different English words and toys that we have in America. The boys were fascinated with my light eyes and blonde hair, since many Peruvians have darker hair and eyes. We were split into soccer teams and played short scrimmages against each other. I even scored a goal! Through this activity the children are taught sportsmanship, respect, and conflict/resolution. MLK Socio Deportivo School is working with the community to bring families and children together in a positive way.

IMG_4351Now for the best part of the day…lunch! The lunch we were served today was a lunch for the gods, no joke. We had fresh ceviche (which I wanted to take home in my backpack), fried fish, rice with seafood and different corn salads. El Agustino is like no place I have ever been, and I was absolutely fascinated with all of the sights before me. I could have walked up and down those streets forever.

After a long and nauseating car ride in Peruvian traffic, we went back to the host university for our first official seminar. Here we talked about our readings, reflected on our first impressions, and talked about the big ideas for our courses (don’t forget I am here for school after all). And now here I am, in the living room of my homestay writing my first blog ever with my six amigas. Soon dinner will be served to us by MariLuz, and we will finish up our very first blog posts for all the world to enjoy (or mostly my mom). I am so blessed to be here and have loved every minute; although my body and brain are exhausted, I cannot wait to wake up the next morning and have a new set of incredible experiences.


Today’s lessons:

  • “Children are seeds, who have the potential to grow into beautiful flowers and teachers are the sunlight that can get them there” –Rodrigo from the UARM Student panel
  • Do NOT flush toilet paper. It must be thrown into the trash…yeah, it is an adjustment.
  • Winter in Peru is interesting. Wear layers because one minute you are sweating and another minute you are “freezing.”

State Capitol Commemorative Essay and Art Competition

Wisconsin_State_Capitol_Building_during_Tulip_FestivalBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

To commemorate and celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Wisconsin State Capitol, the Commemorative Commission is hosting a writing and essay competition for Wisconsin students.

Students in grades K-12, are encouraged to “submit an essay or piece of art which details or symbolizes the importance of the Capitol building and what it means to Wisconsin. Essays should be no longer than one page in length and either typed or legibly written. Art pieces should be two-dimensional, made out of non-breakable material, and no larger than 24 inches by 30 inches.”

When I provided this writing opportunity to my summer school students, I encouraged them to do research and cite sources. I wanted to see my students take a risk and do something original, creative and unexpected.

Entries must be received by October 13th, 2017.

If students are unable to visit the Wisconsin State Capitol, information can be found online here:

You can find out more about this writing opportunity here.

If you’re looking for example essays, here are four from my summer school class.



Home Safe and Sound… But Changed

use 3The students from our first-ever, COED-led study abroad trip to Peru have returned! After a month in Peru, all seven students have written extensively on their experiences as part of the course. However, you’ll find that their adventures outside of the classroom were just as educational.


Read on to learn more about Claire, Addy, Sara, Amy, Liz, Amy, and Carrie have learned in their own words!

use 1.jpg

The Last Day of School

1000w_q95By Stephanie Nicoletti

On Friday there was a certain buzz going around the school, the kids came in with happy faces and even teachers were grinning ear to ear; it was the last day of school. During our closing circle on the last day I told my students that I enjoyed every minute with them and absolutely loved watching them grow over the school year.

Each year I always get sad during our last closing circle, your students become a part of you after spending a year together. This year I even had a little one who had tears streaming from his face when the bell rang, he was so upset he did not want to leave the classroom. This made me sad of course, but it also made me realize that all of the work teachers do over the summer to prepare for the following school year does not go unnoticed.

I was making a list this morning of all of the things I wanted to accomplish this summer before the school year starts. The list is long and daunting, but then I remember the tears that were in my classroom on the last day and remind myself that everything teachers do, no matter how daunting it may seem, is always for the students. While this summer will be fun, relaxing and refreshing for students and teachers alike, do not forget to remember your students who are itching to come back to school!

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